Industry Trends & Research


The top skills to consider when interviewing QA engineers

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John Gluck

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The tech hiring landscape continues to shift as the world’s workforce navigates global economic uncertainty. Fortunately, these shifts create opportunities for software developers and engineers. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts the job market for these professionals remains resilient with an expected 26% increase in employment over the next decade.

Furthermore, Karat’s 2023 Hiring Trends Report reveals that software engineers are more valuable than ever before. The report features a Harris Poll survey of nearly 800 software leaders. Fifty-five percent of them believe a strong software engineer is worth three times their total compensation.

This ever-increasing demand touches every industry and software engineering role, including QA engineers. These technologists are vital to a seamless customer experience because any company that produces software wants to release defect-free products quickly.

To fill this need, we established QA Wolf in 2019 to deliver QA testing services to our clients all over the world. QA engineers make up more than half of our staff because they’re essential to our daily operations. We’re very selective when it comes to the engineers we hire. Through our collaboration on this blog with Karat, we have identified the top skills recruiters and leaders should look for when hiring for this discipline and how to interview for those qualities:

1. A commitment to quality that’s technology agnostic

When we review job descriptions, we’re often surprised to see how much emphasis hiring managers place on specific skills, such as Selenium or Agile practices. Make no mistake, those skills are important but we’ve found that they’re not the best indicators for long-term success.

Hiring managers would have more success by not making hard requirements out of specific technology or even specific domains. Modern testing frameworks have fundamental similarities that make it easy for experienced automators to understand the basics in any specific framework. Furthermore, for those testers, or even for beginners looking at it from the right perspective, software testing doesn’t differ between domains. Patterns, such as Arrange, Act, Assert, can and should be applied to any test. These skills can be taught to those with the aptitude and a commitment to a high-quality user experience.

Test automation is a means to a more important end: shipping high-quality, defect-free software efficiently in partnership with engineering managers and engineers, as well as product managers and designers. Given that, the most effective QA engineers can successfully predict the testing needs of the product. They’re customer-oriented, enthusiastic, and driven. Obviously, technical skill is still important, but interviewing for these traits and skills will make any QA team more successful in the future.

How to spot it in an interview

To evaluate a candidate’s skills without focusing on a single tech stack, what you don’t ask is as important as what you do. Instead of quizzing candidates about the details of particular frameworks or practices, stay at a higher level with questions that let them demonstrate an understanding of why these systems look the way they do and what problems they’re meant to solve.

Don’t restrict your candidates to showing their skills in the languages you use either. Even if your team is working in Java, a candidate who can demonstrate effective testing in C#, Ruby, or Python is still more likely to succeed than a Java expert who’s lacking in the core skills of a tester. Look for these skills instead.

2. A strong analytical perspective

One of the most valuable traits a tester can bring to the table is objectivity. Teams depend on testers to look beyond the test case as presented and anticipate coverage needs outside of the happy path. They don’t wait for regressions to occur and build a test for it after the fact. Rather, they anticipate problems that might occur in the application and build tests to identify any defects before they escape to production.

How to spot it in an interview

Because an analytical mindset is unique and under-utilized, it can be difficult to identify during an interview process. The best way to discover a candidate’s level of proficiency is through a specific exercise or challenge. Give your candidate something to analyze and evaluate their analytical approach. Review how they arrived at their conclusion and assess the level of ability they demonstrated in the process. This method is especially effective when you ask more open-ended questions that don’t result in “one right answer.”

3. A strong sense of self-motivation

Strong QA engineers are independent thinkers who are self-motivated. When they’re automating tests, they reach out to and work with the team to prevent defects in the product, make code more testable, or improve the testing environment. When creating bug reports, they provide all the useful information that a developer will need to fix it — maybe going so far as to track down the line of code where the application is failing. When they help to fix a problem, they follow-up with whomever they need to and make sure the issue is truly resolved without being reminded to do so. 

How to spot it in an interview

During an interview, candidates may find it difficult to fully demonstrate a sense of self-motivation. They may feel conflicting pressure not only to present themselves as the best possible choice for the opportunity in front of them but also to demonstrate the full capability of their skills. Relieve that pressure by asking behavioral questions. Request that the candidate describe a circumstance or situation from the past in which they’ve had to dig deep to successfully resolve a challenge.

4. An aptitude for learning

Software test automation is always evolving. The best automators aren’t afraid of learning new concepts and technologies, whether it’s low-code tools, more flexible testing frameworks, or AI. This is especially true if that newfound knowledge helps improve the quality of the product they’re testing and the efficiency of their team. They also seek out guidance from other experienced automators and apply it to their work.

How to spot it in an interview

When it comes to this attribute, behavioral questions are the key to unlocking a candidate’s level of skill. Consider asking them to explain something they recently learned on the job, how they learned it, and why it was meaningful. You aren’t looking to hire someone who spends their free time studying. That will bias you toward early-career candidates who feel like they have a lot to prove. You should instead leave the question more open ended to see if a candidate will speak freely and confidently about recently acquired skills and why they pursued them.

5. A need for collaborative craftsmanship

The best automators have the fewest flaky tests — not just because they’re technically adept. They realize their tests cannot be reliable when the application is difficult to test, and know when to stop and ask the developers to create testability features. Some testers can even add such features without product developer assistance.

If you’re building an in-house team, you should understand that the best automators commit changes to the test suite frequently — ideally, several times a day and invite others to review or even contribute to their code. They make their code-completion goals for the sprint clear.

How to spot it in an interview

To ensure that your candidate is committed to craftful collaboration, ask them to review code. 

The exercise of reviewing code can help reveal if the code to be tested could be refactored to make it more testable.

6. An ability to communicate clearly, accurately, and precisely

It seems obvious to say but good testers have the ability to communicate clearly and accurately regardless of forum. If that means building or maintaining tests, they leave no one on the team wondering what they are tackling. They know when to leave comments on their test automation code and how much information to include. 

While some might call them “detail-oriented,” good testers select the <right details so as to avoid unnecessary confusion or waste. In a bug report, effective testers assist developers in reproducing an issue by leaving accurate steps detailing what they expected and what actually happened and also by including artifacts such as screencaps and log output.

A key component of good communication is the timely element. Part of creating trust with teammates starts with communicating about the small things. Good testers respond quickly to requests because they are usually depended on to support their team.

How to spot it in an interview

In this instance, observing communication is the most important responsibility. Take note of how your candidate communicates during the interview, but don’t over-focus on whether or not they communicate “like you do.” Adapt to their style and focus on whether theirs is effective. 

Additionally, ask them to summarize something in writing to evaluate their accuracy, clarity, and precision. For instance, request that they produce a good bug report for an issue addressed in the interview.

7. A keen sense of accountability

The only way to fix a problem is to be accountable for it. Testers who see a problem as “not part of their job description” are relinquishing control of the solution and its results. If the tester is responsible for multiple applications, they master one and learn the others. In doing so, some of the best testers become the go-to for any application and even contribute to production firefighting. 

How to spot it in an interview

Behavioral interview questions are a good solution to evaluate this quality. Ask your candidate to describe an instance in which they’ve stepped outside the bounds of their role to make the right thing happen. Encourage them to articulate why they felt this was important and what they learned. This will help you better gauge the sense of ownership they have for their work.

8. An interest in mentoring others

Good testers are eager to teach and mentor, because they know that effective mentoring can increase the productivity of the entire team. In many cases testers are subject matter experts for their applications and teams outside their own may come to them. They will patiently explain how the product works, or how to understand the product’s test suite and execute its associated tests. They consider it part of their job to create clear and concise documentation to help others help themselves; and, they deliver clear, accurate and valuable feedback to those who request it.

Good automators teach by example. They maintain their tests, documentation, plans, and cases to the highest standards. 

How to spot it in an interview

Behavioral interviewing for the win! Plan to ask a short series of questions about mentorship. Ask the candidate if they’ve had successful experiences with it and what they learned. More importantly, ask them about a time when mentoring didn’t go well and what they would change. This can help you better understand their willingness to work as a collaborator, mentor, and teammate to achieve the best possible outcomes.

Ultimately, you don’t have to have deep experience in QA engineering to accurately assess those skills in an interview. If you have the ability to look for the essential characteristics, you can help your organization evaluate interested candidates; however, interviewing is its own craft and discipline. It requires time — as well as a lot of regular practice — to hone and refine. Following this guidance should help you identify the top talent you need.

Additionally, if you do find that your company requires assistance to fulfill QA engineering needs, QA Wolf and Karat are both available to support you. As people-first, purpose-driven organizations, we can provide engineering staff or interviewing services that will help move your company in the right direction.

About QA Wolf

QA Wolf is a Seattle-based startup providing automated QA as a Service so engineering teams can release faster, with greater confidence, at a lower cost. The tech-enabled service builds end-to-end test coverage for 80% of an application’s workflows in less than four months, manages and runs the test suite in full parallel on their cloud, and maintains the tests when the application changes. By providing a fully-managed QA service, engineering teams can focus on their product and their customers rather than test maintenance and infrastructure.

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